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How to Build Better Lifelong Habits

According to a psychologist who has studied behavior change for more than 20 years.

Thomas Oppong

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Photo by Jose Chavez on Unsplash.

Humans are creatures of habit. If you could build good habits, you’d be on your way to a better life.

But building good lifelong habits is hard.

You will feel amazing if every time you put your mind to something, you got it done in a specific and realistic time.

You didn’t start and stop. You never got off track.

You just finished what you started — no questions asked.

The truth is, you’re more than capable of achieving every goal you set.

But if you really want to accomplish the goals you set, you need a better strategy for getting things done.

A proven system that helps you stick to — and finish — everything you start.

And it all begins in the mind.

If you are not satisfied with your life and desperately want to change, you will find a way. Many people would rather find an excuse to support their inability to change.

Marshall Goldsmith explains in his book, Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts — Becoming the Person You Want to Be, “If we’re satisfied with our life — not necessarily happy or delighted that we’ve exceeded our wildest expectations, just satisfied — we yield to inertia. We continue doing what we’ve always done.”

When you set a new goal, you’re unlikely to achieve it unless your habits already support it or you are fully committed and dedicated to your new routine.

If your goal runs afoul of your current habits, you’ll need to change your habits in order to achieve your goal.

And change, any change is difficult for the human brain.

If you set a goal to write a single page of your new book every day, but you aren’t already in the habit of writing on a regular basis, you will struggle.

Most likely you’ll never complete the book. That goal will just sit on your to-do list for years.

If you want to quit your job and start working on your passion project, but you aren’t in the habit of making time to work on things you care about, that goal is also unlikely to be achieved.

It will simply remain a fantasy, overridden by the habit of showing up to work each day and doing nothing about your long term dream.

If you perform a certain task every day for weeks on end, it’s usually pretty easy to maintain.

However, once you take a day or two off, it can be harder to start up again on your next “on” day.

When you make your habits specific (identify when, where, and how you’ll implement them and leave nothing to chance), you are more likely to develop and stick with it.

The Proven Method: Ride the Motivation Wave

According to BJ Fogg, a psychologist and researcher at Stanford University who has studied behavior change for more than 20 years, doing something you don’t enjoy and subsequently failing to make it habitual is actually more detrimental to a mission for change than doing nothing at all.

To create a real lifelong habit, the focus should be on training your brain to succeed at a small adjustments, then gaining confidence from that success, he argues.

Sticking with good habits it’s not about trying to increase your motivation so much as taking advantage of motivation when you do have it, says Fogg.

Jim Rohn once said ‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.’

In an interview with Ramit Sethi, author of “I Will Teach You to Be Rich,” Fogg explained how to ride what he calls the “motivation wave,” or the fluctuations in our motivation levels.

“Motivation only has one role in our lives and that’s to help us to do hard things,” Fogg said.

“Motivational waves” are those moments where we feel really inspired to take action on a list of to-dos.

However, when the Motivation Wave subsides, you will not respond to triggers for difficult tasks.

So when your motivation is high, take immediate action on all those hard things you find difficult to start and maintain. The motivation wave might help you create long-term good behaviours.

BJ Fogg explained in the interview that he wanted to drink more tea.

So when his motivation was at its peak, he bought a bunch of tea, an electric kettle to boil water, and set everything up in easy-to-reach places on his kitchen counter.

He built a system so that it was a no-brainer to make tea whenever he was in the kitchen.

How to Take Advantage of the Motivation Wave

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The next time you’re feeling “motivated” — either right now or later this week to either either write a book, start a business, go to the gym, learn a language, or a skill — use the motivation wave to your advantage.

Make a list of everything you need to get in order to accomplish your goal. Then, sketch out a rough outline of your fail-proof system that’ll help you follow through.

When you put structures in place, you are likely to follow through.

For example, you could set up an automatic savings transfer at your bank if you want to start a savings habit.

This way, you have no choice but to save, whether you’re motivated or not.

Or, if you’re trying to launch your passion project, register a domain and start building an audience when you are highly motivated, or find a mentor, schedule a meeting and discuss your action plans.

You could even make an arrangement with an accountablity partner when you hit a motivation wave to keep you going.

Later, when you’re not as motivated, you’re still obligated to go to the meeting or report your progress to your accountability partner.

The key takeway of the motivation wave is this: take as much action as you can when the wave hits you, and safeguard yourself from future discouragement.

The 30-Day Trial Approach

“The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables called habits, attitudes, and desires. What you do in life depends upon what you are and what you want. What you get from life depends upon how much you want it?how much you are willing to work and plan and cooperate and use your resources. The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables that you are spinning now, and that is why today is such an important day. Make the cables strong!” — L.G. Elliott

Many people use the 30-day trial approach to kick-start a new habit.

This method has a high success rate and can be adapted for virtually any habit you’d like to develop.

For 30 days you commit yourself to doing all of these things without exception.

It works if you are highly committed and dedicated to forming and sticking to your new habit.

Even if you later get off track, it will be easier to re-establish the habit with in the 30 days peroid.

If you want this approach to work for you, take time to identify other habits that will support your main habit, thereby supporting your primary goal as well.

If you’re like most people, you may fail to maintain consistency.

You probably won’t even make it through the first week, and the odds of making it through the 30 days successfully are more than 100–1 against you.

So if you want to have a chance of succeeding at this, you can’t be like most people. The more prepared you are when you kick off your 30 day trial habit, the better your odds of success.

Thomas Oppong is the founder of AllTopStartups and writes on science-based answers to problems in life about creativity, productivity, and self-improvement.